Mary Mallory / Hollywood Heights: ‘Adventures of Kathlyn,’ Hollywood’s First Cross-Promotional Stunt

kathlyn_w_leopard
“The Adventures of Kathlyn,” courtesy of Mary Mallory.


Between 1910 and 1920, filmmaking exploded in Los Angeles and Hollywood, with production companies flocking to the sunlit mecca of Southern California. Populations surged as men and women traveled here pursuing fame and fortune in the film business. With every passing year, film production, promotion and distribution grew more sophisticated and nuanced.

One of the pioneers in advancing motion picture production and publicity was a short, energetic man by the name of Col. William Selig, an honorary rank he bestowed upon himself. Selig jumped into the early moving picture business in 1895 Chicago after stints as a traveling vaudevillian and magician. He established the first permanent Los Angeles film studio in 1909. Selig Polyscope Co. filmed all types of stories, particularly westerns and exotic animal pictures.

ALSO BY MARY MALLORY:

Erte and the Movies
Ned Sparks — Hollywood Grouch
The Hollywood American Legion  — The House That Boxing Built

In 1913, Selig brainstormed a novel idea to boost box office receipts and gain free publicity at the same time by pairing up with a major newspaper syndicate to produce and publicize a film series starring one of his most popular actresses, Kathlyn Williams under the name “The Adventures of Kathlyn.” Williams confidently appeared with wild animals in Selig films, earning the nickname, “Kathlyn the unafraid.”

Selig’s inspiration was to produce a fiction film with thrills, suspense and wild animals to attract audiences yearning for adventure. “Adventures of Kathlyn” imitated the 1912 serial “What Happened to Mary” starring Mary Fuller in that it linked together a series of interconnected stories, and played biweekly in a 27-reel series of two-reel installments. Unlike the Fuller serial, “Kathlyn” left its story unresolved each week, and therefore is considered the first cliffhanger serial.

The Selig Co. announced in the Sept. 6, 1913, issue of Motography the upcoming release of “a series of 13 two-reel subjects … all these two-reel pictures are to be spectacular wild animal dramas, and each subject is to be complete in itself, though it will end in such a manner that the person who has seen one of the series will instantly realize that there is more to come, and be on the lookout for the next picture of the series.” In effect, William Selig and his company created the first true cliffhanger serial, leaving excited audiences in suspense about how action would be resolved.

This film series also differed from others in that it functioned as a cross-promotion between the company and newspapers to increase circulation and sales for both, as films attracted a lower-class audience, while middle-class audiences subscribed to newspapers. It was hoped that more than 40 million people would be reached in the promotion.

Kathlyn Waltz

The Chicago Daily Tribune paid $12,000 to Selig for the opportunity to publish story tie-ins of “The Adventures of Kathlyn,” along with other newspapers in its syndicate. The Tribune Co. described how the newspaper planned to increase subscriptions and sales with the promotion in their 1922 book, “The WGN.” The book noted, “The first step was to capitalize the soaring motion picture craze for Tribune benefit.”

Such major newspapers as the Los Angeles Times, the New York Sun, the Boston Globe, the Atlanta Constitution, the Detroit Free Press, the Philadelphia Record, the Baltimore Record and many others participated in the campaign. The first episode of three reels ran exclusively in city film theatres on Dec. 29, 1913, followed by the newspapers publishing the first installment on Sunday, Jan. 4, 1914, accompanied by sketches and stills of the film. Each biweekly serialization recapped the preceding chapters before giving that week’s full story.

Each release promoted the other, with the film and slides noting that the story could be found in each city’s Sunday paper, and the papers promoting the film in theatres. The Jan. 11, 1914, Los Angeles Times edition prominently mentioned, “The Adventures of Kathlyn being exclusively shown at Clune’s Broadway.”

As the January 1914 Motion Picture News reported, “It is the first time a similar co-operation has ever been enjoyed in the motion picture business.” Thus, the first major cross-promotion between newspapers and motion pictures revolved around a Los Angeles film company. Selig also supposedly created the first motion picture trailer to help promote the series.

Virtually every review praised the film, noting both its expensive look and thrilling action and adventure, along with rare footage shot in India. The Motion Picture News review stated that the most troubling part of the film was the concluding statement, “To be continued.”

The ploy worked, leading to overflow crowds at film theatres, forcing some theatre managers to speed up projection of the film in order to add additional screenings. Men were drawn to the film to see the attractive Kathlyn Williams in peril, while women were attracted to attend because of jealousy over their man’s pleasure or because of how impressed they were with the strong Williams.

Newspaper sales soared. The Chicago Tribune increased its overall film coverage after the release of “The Adventures of Kathlyn,” and soon began publishing reviews on Feb. 5, 1914. The Los Angeles Times serialization on Jan. 25, 1914, noted that the moving picture was produced at Selig’s animal farm near Eastlake Park with local performers. By the spring, up to 200 papers serialized the film.

Selig introduced synergy with “The Adventures of Kathlyn” as well, publishing Harold MacGrath’s novelization of the series, leading many bookstores to organize window displays of the book, film stills and Williams’ standee in shop windows. The Photoplay edition of the book contained movie stills to add punch to the text. Persons subscribing to Photoplay Magazine in 1914 could obtain a free cloth-bound edition of the book.

In the fall of 1914, Col. Selig presented a special edition of the novelization to the Chicago Public Library, thanks to booming popular requests by library members.

According to the Jan. 21, 1915 “Daybook,” the meteoric success of the serial led the following items to be named after the film or Kathlyn Williams: a cocktail, face powder, perfume, slippers, shirtwaist, cigar, hair-dress, a baby elephant, puma, lion, the song, “Kathlyn, Dear Kathlyn,” the “Kathlyn Hesitation Waltz,” written by Lee Orean Smith, the Kathleen pool at the Selig Zoo, a watch charm for single men, and five babies.

The Selig Co. began slowly losing its best players and directors to other companies, and disbanded in the early 1920s. Selig ended up donating much of his studio’s films, papers, and photographs to the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences in 1947, receiving an honorary Academy Award that year along with three other early film pioneers. Williams went on to star for other studios, particularly Famous Players-Lasky, ending her career in 1935, suffering several tragedies along the way.

For further information on the film, or the company in general, read Kalton C. Lahue’s “Motion Picture Pioneer: The Selig Polyscope Company,” or Andy Erish’s fine 2012 biography, “Colonel William N. Selig: The Man Who Invented Hollywood.”

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About lmharnisch

I work at the Los Angeles Times
This entry was posted in 1912, 1913, 1914, Animals, Film, Hollywood, Hollywood Heights, Mary Mallory and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

4 Responses to Mary Mallory / Hollywood Heights: ‘Adventures of Kathlyn,’ Hollywood’s First Cross-Promotional Stunt

  1. aryedirect says:

    Tidbit: WGN became the Chicago call letters of a radio, then early television station. WGN stood for ‘World’s Greatest Newspaper’, which was how the Chicago Tribune saw itself then and now. Both broadcast venues are still going strong, and the Tribune Company is current owner of the Los Angeles Times.

  2. Benito says:

    Selig was decades ahead of his time. Now “infotainment” is spoon fed to us daily. How lucky we are!

  3. Pingback: The serial that nourished Jane Alice | Carole & Co.

  4. vp19 says:

    Just did an entry on Kathlyn — and cited this article: http://carole-and-co.livejournal.com/606723.html

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